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Valentine's Day

by Kim Harrington 


      It seems that so many of the holidays we celebrate have pagan and ungodly origins, and we Christians are sometimes a little confused about the whole thing. Our conscience is more sensitive to the things of the spirit world, and we want to do right; we don't want to partake in something that's questionable. Yet at the same time, we don't want to appear strange and legalistic, taking strong, unbending stances on relatively unimportant issues.

    What about Valentine's Day?  One feels almost obligated to honor your special loved ones on this day as a result of all the media hype, yet knowing what we know about other so-called "holidays" can make us a little bit leery.  Let me share my research with you...

     St. Valentine was an early bishop who was martyred in the Third Century.  There is no reliable evidence concerning him, however. There may have been one, two, or no St. Valentines. The Roman Catholic church was uncertain enough to drop his day, February 14th, as an official feast day in 1969. About the only thing we can be absolutely certain of is that he had nothing whatsoever to do with love and courtship!

     The connection of St. Valentine's and romance has to do with the day chosen to honor him--it coincides with an ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia. The Latin word lupa is translated both as "female wolf" and "prostitute." The wolf connection goes all the way back to Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome. They were (supposedly) the sons of Mars and Rhea Silvia ("gods"), who as infants, were sent down the Tiber River in a trough, and eventually rescued and nursed by a she-wolf. The connection between wolves and prostitutes is less clear, but down through the years sex and wolves have been linked in various ways. The French have a saying, "she has seen the wolf" which means she has lost her virginity. In America, a lecherous man is called a wolf.

     In any case, the festival of Lupercalia in the middle of February became a time when various fertility rites were conducted (in honor of the Roman fertility goddess Fauna), and that's no doubt how lovers and St. Valentine's Day became associated. In medieval Britain, birds were thought to mate on February 14th, probably a take-off from Lupercalia celebrations of older times. Eventually the legendary Valentine himself became known as the patron saint of lovers, and newer stories started to circulate concerning love letters being written in his prison cell, etc.

     More recently, Cupid has been brought into the picture--which was a natural development, as he was considered to be the Roman god of love. Love is too noble a word however. Cupid is the Roman name for the Greek god Eros, from whom we get our modern English words erotic and erotica, which have to do with "love" of a baser nature, and even pornography. (Cupid, by the way, whose arrows caused passion to be aroused in any who received them, accidentally pricked himself with one while gazing on the beautiful Psyche--whom we know today as Walt Disney's Tinkerbelle.)

     What's a parent to do? Is Valentine's Day innocent or not? Frankly, I'm amazed that American parents have allowed their babes to play games suggesting romance and mating at all--Christians or not!  Maybe it's because we know they won't really start being interested in the opposite sex for a few years yet, and it seems rather harmless to be someone's "valentine."  But today I'm not so sure.  Through the agency of prime-time television and modern cartoons, children are more sophisticated than they used to be, and have been introduced to sex and romance at a much earlier age than most parents think.

     The decision to partake or not partake in this holiday--for you or your children--is one that parents have to decide together. If your child attends public school, there may be little you can do about Valentine's Day besides keep him or her home--or possibly, send them to school with "Christian" valentines that emphasize God's agape love, instead of Cupid's eros love.  If your child goes to a Christian school and they intend to exchange valentines, you might show the teacher a copy of this message and encourage him or her to drop the practice. If you're involved in children's ministry yourself, don't honor St. Valentines Day at all--the roots are too pagan to be dragged into the church.

     And if you're a lover, whether still courting or already married, you shouldn't need a special day to get romantic with your partner. You can go out a day or two earlier, perhaps (don't go out on the 15th either, as it was the height of the Lupercalia festival), and you can buy flowers a week later at about half the cost. It makes sense to me.




Copyright 1998 Kim Harrington, Masterbuilder Ministries. All rights reserved.


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